NEARLY one year after it began offering flights to Granada, Nicaragua, Costa Rican airline Nature Air is showing no signs of slowing down. The airline recently launched Nature Landings – its own in-flight travel magazine – and plans to begin flights to new destinations such as the Caribbean port city of Limón, the country’s Northern Zone and Bocas del Toro, Panama.
“This year, we’re focusing on customer service toward the travel agencies and the individual passenger,” said Alexi Huntley, manager of marketing for Nature Air.
“You need to focus on customer service because the traveler coming to Costa Rica is higher-end. Their expectations are higher,” he said. “Costa Rica is a go-to destination. It recently beat out Hawaii as the number-one adventure-tourism destination in the world. It’s also a world-class luxury destination. Prestigious hotel chains like Four Seasons have opened here.”
IN addition to Granada, the airline flies from Tobías Bolaños Airport in Pavas, in western San José, to 12 destinations throughout Costa Rica – Barra del Colorado, Drake Bay, Golfito, Liberia, Nosara (Samara), Palmar Sur, Puerto Jiménez, Punta Islita, Quepos, Tamarindo, Tambor and Tortuguero.
Nature Air is the only national airline that uses 19-seat De Haviland twin otter planes. The airline is planning to acquire two additional planes, for a total of seven. To make flying a more pleasant experience, Nature Air’s planes are equipped with Vistaliner windows – special observation windows that are twice as large as regular airplane windows. All the company’s planes are painted in colorful motifs based on Costa Rica’s flora and fauna.
NATURE Landings is a free full-color bilingual (English/Spanish) magazine published every two months. The magazine is available on all Nature Air flights and will soon be available at select restaurants and hotels in the areas it services. The magazine includes a wide range of feature stories on Costa Rica’s and Granada’s natural wonders and cultural activities.
Nature Landings makes a special point of showcasing the region’s cultural events. The first issue, July-August, has stories on San José’s theaters and Granada’s sidewalk markets, as well as a calendar of cultural activities and celebrations of folklore. The second edition, September-October, contains articles about the region’s Independence Day celebrations, Carribean Carnavales, chocolate farmers and volcanoes.
“WE look at the magazine, obviously, as a way of marketing ourselves,” Huntley explained. “However, we also see it as a great tool to offer a voice to our partners in travel, whether a tour operator, hotel or an environmental organization interested in reaching out to our clientele.”
Nature Air caters to a select market. Nearly nine in ten of its passengers are college graduates. Half have disposable incomes more than $65,000 a year and travel at least twice a year, he said. “It’s a high-end market that looks for quality products,” Huntley said. “For advertisers that’s a big plus.”
The airline is committed to making Nature Landings a quality publication and, eventually, an economically self-sufficient one, he said.
The magazine seeks to be about much more than promoting the airline and attracting advertisers. Nature Landings offers free advertising to environmental groups, such as Rainforest Alliance and InBio Parque. The last page of the first issue features a column by Alvaro Ugalde, director of the Osa Conservation Area, on efforts to save the biodiversity of the Osa Peninsula in the country’s Southern Zone.
Future editions of the magazine will continue to offer editorial and advertising space to good causes, particularly those related to preserving the environment, Huntley said.
He said Nature Air’s commitment to the environment doesn’t end there. The airline is working on creating a carbon bond-trading program. The airline plans to work with experts to measure the amount of emissions released per seat per flight. Passengers would voluntarily be able to pay a fee to compensate for the emissions released during their flight. Nature Air would then match the amount. The funds would be contributed to conservation, reforestation and alternative energy development projects.
“We’re really excited about it,” Huntley said. “We plan on being the first zero emissions airline in the world. We’re more than just a company based on profits and losses,” he explained. “We’re in this because this is what we are. We are travelers. This is our lifestyle.”
NATURE Air’s expansion is showing no signs of slowing. “We plan to continue growing,” Huntley said. “Bocas del Toro (Panama) is something we’re definitely working on. We’re running charters there now. Obviously, we’d like to open Limón. The Limón, Puerto Viejo and Cahuita area has been overlooked,” he said. “We’re also thinking of starting flights to Arenal/LaFortuna (in the Northern Zone) in 2005. We’re also considering San Andrés (a Colombian island in the Caribbean).”
Despite these ambitious plans, there’s one destination the airline won’t be flying to in the near future – Juan Santamaría International Airport. Huntley says Nature Air is happy with and committed to its Tobías Bolaños hub. Despite offers to move to Juan Santamaría, Nature Air is staying in Pavas, he said. Nature Air represents three-quarters of all air traffic in and out of Tobías Bolaños. In fact, the airline recently received authorization from Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority to remodel the airport’s terminal and ticket counters, he said.
“We’re very happy here,” he said. “We have a very good working relationship with the airport. One of the reasons our on time performance is so good is we don’t have the traffic Juan Santamaría has. We don’t have to worry about refueling problems here at Tobias Bolaños, since we’re not competing with any 747s.”
For more information or to make a reservation, visit Nature Air online at www.natureair.com or call (800) 235-9272 in the United States and Canada or 220-3054 in Costa Rica.